love is a dog from hell

Charles Bridge, Prague

Early December.

We were at Bukowski’s in the back room; crowded around a small table littered with half-empty wine glasses, cigarettes, and matchboxes. Bukowski’s Bar is across the street from my apartment building, which is just in the epicenter of the Prague underground culture. And the posh neighborhoods are just two blocks and a park away. Balance of my kind.*

I was about to take a sip of my third gin’n’tonic — my vision slightly blurred in the dark shadows of the room and cigarette smoke floating around me, seeping into my hair and clothes — when someone turned to me and said: you must be here all the time, right? They told me you lived around the corner.

I didn’t know who were they and I didn’t know the person who was speaking to me despite the past half hour of conversation. He sounded like he was a Montenegrin or a Dalmatian by accent, I couldn’t tell for sure. The way you can never really tell with people who’d been away from home for too long. It was a random Balkan encounter in the middle of the week; I rarely want to say yes to these things but I don’t say no, either. Then I caught myself saying a straight out lie: yeah, I am here all the time, like home away from home.

Except you wouldn’t have found me at Bukowski’s more than four times altogether this past year. It would have been hard to find me in Prague to begin with. I spent more time on the road than anywhere else. Twenty-sixteen saw me in fifteen countries and thirty-three cities. Thousands upon thousands of miles of being on the road, always somewhere, never here.

And definitely not at Bukowski’s, even though, it might be my favorite bar in all of Prague. With the cigarette smoke, and weird strangers, and the huge portrait that hangs in the back room. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t at home. Was I trying to make up for the loneliness and fill the void the size of an Asian city with new European experiences and encounters? Perhaps. But that’s not it, either. Something far more important happened.

I discovered pieces of myself in places that soon became as familiar to me as I had become familiar with myself. I walked certain European streets for the first time, and I met myself there.

I met myself in places I’d never been before and I realized cities no longer dictate how I feel. Home is everywhere I am.

* (Wikipedia confirms. For an unparalleled description of my neighborhood, I recommend Helen Oyeyemi’s Maybe Something, Maybe Nothing.)